Category Archives: christian living

Cowboys and Christians

John-Wayne-Cowboy-Poster

I bet you’ve never heard ole Marshall Dillon say
Miss Kitty have you ever thought of running away
Settling down will you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please
She’d of said, “Yes in a New York minute”
They never tied the knot
His heart wasn’t in it
Stole a kiss as he rode away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place

(From “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith)

Do you like old westerns? Growing up, I always thought my grandpa was just like John Wayne, and he looked like him too.  We love it when the loner rides into town, cleans up the mess, and leaves like he came – independent and alone.

We like other kinds of hero movies for similar reasons.  When the hero, against all odds, saves the day without the help of anyone else, we cheer! There are no stereotypical heroes. Men, women, children, dogs. We root for the underdog and love to see him or her win.

They are the savior of the moment. They didn’t need anyone.  Everyone needed them.

We have adopted quite a liking to this loner mentality.  Our culture today is as individualistic as it has ever been.  We know more about our friends than ever through social media, but we are statistically more lonely and depressed than ever.  We pride ourselves on our independence and ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Even the “American dream” encourages this idealism that pits a person or family against the world to succeed in wealth, prestige and power.

But is individualism best?

My own personal savior, Jesus Christ.

The individualistic ideal of today that is standard thinking for many in America is foreign to so many others around the world, and it is a relatively new concept associated with the rise of industrialism, capitalism, and urbanization.

In days gone by, a family would need the entire community to survive.  Older generations weren’t carted off to homes for senior care.  They were incorporated into the everyday life of the family.  The nuclear family wasn’t separate from the collective.  People didn’t seek to be alone.

When you read the scriptures through the lens of individualism, then it would seem fitting that Jesus is our own personal savior. One for each of us.  But Jesus didn’t just come to die for you alone.  His plan was for the world.  The language of the scriptures isn’t that of individualism; it exudes collectivism.

Yet, when we read stories like the gathering of the first church in Acts 2, we immediately think of terms like socialism or communism or utopian societies or cults.  They thought of community.  They were using what they were blessed with to help those they considered family.  To seek independent wealth would be to show disdain for the collective need.

This collectivist mindset was the norm for those in the Middle East in the first century.  Yet, today, we are far removed from such thinking.  If we could refocus to see the collective view, the scriptures would open up to us in new ways, the church would mobilize again to look like she began, and we would find new purpose in our faith in Jesus.

When you read the word “you” in the New Testament, more often than not the word is plural – speaking to the whole church – not just the individual reading.

As it is, our individualistic mindsets convince us to hoard our wealth and give leftover to the church. We hide in buildings to see one another once a week or less, and we convince ourselves that we can seek this personal relationship with Jesus without attending services with other hypocritical Christians.

These ideas are entirely foreign to the church of the New Testament – the church of Jesus.

Jesus is your savior, but he’s the savior of the whole world, and you’re a part of it.  He’s the savior of the church, and you’re a part of it.  YOU (singular) aren’t the church.  WE (collectively) are the church.

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Mountain Roads

Have you ever taken a trip up a mountain road? I’m not talking about one with pavement or that your Ford Focus could cruise along. I’m talking about a mountain road that will take you above tree line.

When you embark upon a mountain road trip, you must begin with the proper frame of mind. To think you are doing this for a joyride will have you met with frustration and worry. Taking a trip up a mountain road is an adventure.

Depending on the time of year, you may be met with all sorts of adversity. You must have high clearance, and four wheel drive is recommended, for you are going where normal cars cannot, and you’re doing this for the scenery, access to places few can go, and adventure.

On a few occasions, I have met sharp rocks and bald tires. I have changed flats on mountainsides in the rain. I have had to move boulders to forge ahead. I have encountered streams that needed to be crossed and snow banks that needed to be traversed. I’ve even come upon logs that either had to be moved or driven over. A few times I have even come to a place where the vehicle could no longer go, and I set out on foot to see what lays ahead.

Driving mountain roads is definitely an adventure.

As I said before, it is not a joyride. If I was looking for scenery without danger, I would be nervous from the drop-offs and narrow roads. It would ruin my day when an obstacle arose. My attitude would be adjusted by every unforeseen circumstance.

But I drive mountain roads for the adventure, and that adventure brings me joy.

I have seen mountain sheep and tundra. I have been to alpine lakes with pristine water. I have breathed clean air and seen for miles and miles. I have driven places most people will never see and found treasures absent in lower elevations.

The adventure is worth it, for the benefits outweigh the trials.

In our churches, we pray, a lot. Nearly every week I hear others pray on numerous occasions, and one of the most common things prayed for is safety. Are we called to be safe? If I was striving for safety in my wanderings, I would never attempt to drive a mountain road, and I would never see the places I’ve seen.

If we walk this life looking for safety, we will never achieve the goals God has set for us to reach the world for Him. Safety is not possible when you are evangelizing. Safety isn’t attainable when you are pouring yourself out for others. Safety is not a goal of the church that belongs to Jesus.

Jesus has redeemed our life – bought it – He owns us. He wants to use us, and in the name of stewardship, we seek safety. And the church dwindles.

Have you experienced the joy of seeing a friend and loved one give his or her life to Christ? Then, you have taken the risk of rejection. Have you poured yourself out to the point of exhaustion in service to someone? Then you have experienced the joy of selflessness. Have you loved unconditionally only to be burned? Then you know what Christ experienced. Have you heard the call to visit (mission trip) or move (missionary) somewhere new for the sake of the kingdom? Have you heard the call to reach your neighborhood? Did you pray for safety?

Christianity is meant to be an adventure. You are meant to live in ways few live to change the world for the better. You aren’t created for safety. Safety is for those who do not need a Savior.

The next time you pray, pray for courage, boldness, strength, power, love, mercy, faithfulness, and other such things that will cause you to live an extraordinary life in Christ, by His Spirit who lives in you. And be adventurous for Jesus.


Most Owned, Least Read

Annually, bibles sales account for over $1,000,000,000.00. Yet also annually, only about 20% of the population say they read their bible regularly. The Bible is the most widely owned, least read book in history.

Why is this?

Every week, church people gather to worship and hear a message from the Bible. The more devout followers also attend bible class and/or small groups one to three other times during the week. Yet, for even these, the Bible isn’t read until they are in those study settings.

Again, I ask, why?

The Bible is an intimidating book. 66 books written over two-thousand years ago at the latest, and some of them nearly 3500 years ago. Yet for 35 different authors over the course of nearly 1500 years to write a book that contains a single thread bringing hope to generations is a miracle!

The Bible contains many teachings that are hard to understand. Does anyone really know for certain what Revelation is about, in detail? There are so many religions claiming the Bible as their book, yet they differ dramatically in their practices. How can a simple person understand it? Why even try? Isn’t it easier to trust that what my preacher/teacher says is reliable?

That’s awfully trusting of you!

For years I have wondered what it would be like to preach a sermon from the pulpit and completely make up all the scripture references and tell a message that gets close to but doesn’t match up with what is really in the Bible. I’d have the fake verses on the screen. No one opens their bibles during that time anyway. How many people would even notice I’d be lying? You wouldn’t notice, unless you already knew the book.

Preachers and teachers, even the most sincere ones, are fallible humans, just like you. They make mistakes, just like you. They have limited understanding, just like you. And they can’t read minds, just like you, so they do not know how a particular passage of scripture directly applies to you, personally.

Instead of waiting for the preachers to preach and teachers to teach, what if we read the Bible for ourselves? Then, when we engaged the preachers and teachers, what if we had questions about what we were already studying? What if our study led us to feel more confident in sharing God’s truths with others? What if studying the Bible daily created transformation inside us that others could see? What if we found greater contentment and joy through the perspective given us through the scriptures daily?

If we didn’t look to the Bible for guidance and a moral foundation in our lives, then how would we be different than the atheist who claims no moral truths? We could make up whatever we felt was right, and many religious people do just that.

No! We need the Bible to show us the path God intends us to walk. We need the Bible to help us connect with the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. We need the Bible to combat the temptations of the evil one. We need the Bible.

But we cant get to the truths of the Bible through osmosis. The words of scripture won’t dissolve through the cover and enter our bloodstream to fill our minds with goodness. We have to open the covers and read for ourselves, or listen (there are many, free audio versions of the Bible even for your phone).

Do you know what’s in there? Do you REALLY know? It’s time to start your journey into the text today. Most translations are written on a 6th grade reading level. If you find something you don’t understand, then connect with a spiritually mature person who can help you. Be transformed by the word so that you can be used to transform the world.


Imagine Life Without Taxes

Taxes…Ugh…

I don’t know anyone who gets super excited about tax season. Why do you think that is? Perhaps it is because we do not like having to give up that for which we have worked so hard. Maybe we do not like the government entities and policies that are funded by our taxes. Maybe we have control issues.

The scriptures are pretty clear that tax season shouldn’t be evaded through underhanded means. We have loopholes to utilize, but we should not break the law. We must pay our taxes if we are to be followers of Christ (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7).

Imagine what life would be like without the government to whom the money is paid? No infrastructure. No laws. No enforcement of law. No justice. Chaos would rule, and everyone would do as he or she saw fit.

This would not be the country in which I would want to live.

We often feel frustrated at tax season, however, because we feel less free…less “in control” of our situation. But how “in control” are we ever?

We do not control the number of our days or when the span of them begins and ends. We cannot control unforeseen circumstances of generations of sinfulness. We cannot control others. There are many times throughout each of our days when we are not in control.

Instead of struggling against our lack of control, what would happen if we surrendered? I’m not suggesting we give up on life.

I’m talking about surrendering our need for control to the One who is truly in control and has our best interests in mind. God, the father.

AA talks about the need to surrender in order to find freedom from addiction. Other organizations helping people overcome habits and hang-ups do the same. It’s a healing process to release our need for control over situations and people.

When we release our need for control, then we can adapt to situations better. We do not worry so much. Anger isn’t as prevalent in our lives. We become happier people who joyfully influence those around us by attitudes of contentment.

When we learn contentment, we find joy and peace and true love.

Surrendering our will, our need for control, frees us from whatever expectations we place on our lives and the people around us. Do you nitpick others? Instead, appreciate them and be content with them in your life. Do you grumble about your situation? Accept the goodness and release the need for criticism. Do you hate tax season? When you release the need for control, it can open you up to be able to find the good in the things you once hated.

This tax season, may you surrender your need for control and find contentment in the presence of your Father, who is the only One who has the right to be in control.


Monday Through Saturday – Sunday Too

Why did you become a Christian? Were you looking for salvation from the wrong you’ve committed? Were you looking for inner peace and purpose? Were you looking for a way to overcome the grave? Were you trying to understand what science could not explain?

You became a Christian – you gave your heart to God through Jesus. But did you understand the implications of this transaction?

The whole bible is a long narrative that many people do not comprehend. So many people are looking at the small details of this law and that story and this church that they miss the bigger picture.

Man and God were in perfect relationship, but mankind cheated on God and broke the relationship. God worked diligently to show them a way back, but all ways before Jesus were tastes of that relationship. Then Jesus came and offered full restoration of the relationship between mankind and God. Now we have that relationship back, so we live in the kind of love we’ve been shown by God.

We’ve been given this relationship. Freely. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.

Now God has chosen to take up residence, not in a temple in one location, but in each heart of each Christian. God is here. God is with us. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

We got salvation, but were we looking for relationship?

We want God when we are in trouble. We want Him to take away our sniffles and cure our diseases. We want Him to ease the pain of heartache and exact justice on our enemies. We want God to change the world.

God simply wants us. All of each of us.

Have you ever loved someone so much it didn’t matter what they did, you’d live them anyway? That’s how God loves us. That’s the relationship He wants us to experience in Him.

Then, as we experience and understand that relationship, we are given to worship Him. We worship Him because He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We worship Him because He, in all His majesty, desires relationship with us.

The worship we are called to is not Sunday morning worship service worship. That is one small part of the worship God desires from us. He has given so much for us; could we not, in return, offer Him all of our life in return? Worship is how we are to live. It isn’t simply an action we participate in once in a while.

When you fall in love with your significant other, your whole life revolves around them. Everything you do is to honor them. All you can think about is them. Is that how you react to God?

Everything you do, if you are a Christian, is done in the presence of God with God’s Spirit in you. When you speak life in others, you bring God glory. When you curse others, you bring Him shame. When you love, you reflect His goodness, yet when you hate, you misrepresent the One whose Name you confess. When you join together with other Christians, you recognize your part in His family. When you reject Christian community, you despise His gifts to you.

When you live in worship daily, you will be more committed to joining other Christians in worship weekly in a church building. However, when you make weekly gathering a priority in your life, you may find yourself encouraged to worship daily as well.

So, what shall we do? Pray to God constantly – recognizing your relationship with Him. Worship through actions that honor His Name in you. Gather with His family to experience His love through others who love by His Spirit living in them. Live in worship daily and so honor the One who did for you what you could not do for yourself.


Prayer is Not the Answer

Lately there have been several news outlets and celebrities giving people a hard time for sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims of tragedies and friends who are undergoing hard times. Just this week I saw that Chris Pratt was being ridiculed for praying for another celebrity who was overcoming a heart attack. People have been ridiculing Christians for saying they are praying for the victims of the school shootings. They claim prayer doesn’t work.

And they’re right.

Sometimes.

For many Christians, there is a desire to do something, or there is a call for change, and the immediate reaction is to pray. This is a great response!! Who better to go to in times of need than the one who created the universe?!

But, it seems there are three types of people in the camp of those who send well wishes through touted prayer.

1. The person who says they will pray but doesn’t.

I don’t blame them.

There are a lot of things going on every day. Sometimes it’s hard to pray. What if God isn’t pleased with me? Will my prayers even matter? I don’t have the right words. I’m a weak pray-er.

Really? These excuses do not come from the Spirit of God who lives in you who have devoted your life to Christ. These excuses come from your adversary, the accuser (Satan).

However, if you’re not praying regularly, you will never get better at praying, and it will continue to be easy to say “I’ll pray for you” and never actually do it.

Of course this kind of prayer is not the answer.

2. The person who says they will pray and does.

This group is devoted to trying to help another person through prayer. They are genuine in their statement that they will pray. This group is actively trying to do what is right, but even this group is divided in results.

2a. The person who prays that God will do something.

This is a common prayer, right? “God, please do something about violence in school, or my dying grandmother, or my upcoming test.” We pray to God for many things, and we wonder why those things are not being resolved as quickly as we think they should.

There was once a man who wanted to win the lottery. He prayed and prayed to God to let him win the lottery. The lottery came and went, and he was just as broke, so he prayed once more, “Why didn’t you let me win the lottery?” Then he heard a voice from heaven saying, “You have to buy a ticket first.”

When we pray for God to do something, He wants to act, but the way in which God acts most frequently is through us, people, His children. So many people want God to fix our society, and they hope He’ll use someone else to do it. Many people say “something should be done about this” while looking around the room for someone else to do it.

Perhaps God isn’t moving, and the prayers aren’t working, because He wants to use you, but you aren’t willing to be used.

2b. The person who prays for God to use them to do something.

Much less comfortable than the regular “God, do something” prayer is the one that expects God to use the pray-er through whom He will answer the prayer. If we are praying for God to change the moral culture of our society, we need to look for how God wants to use us to do it. If we pray for someone to be comforted, we should be willing to go comfort.

When we have the attitude of surrender to God for Him to work through us to resolve the issues about which we pray, we will find God working in mighty and effective ways to do just that.

So, prayer is not the answer, entirely. Prayer is the medium through which we seek God’s will for how He wants to use us to be the answer to the very prayers we pray.


Captain America VS Iron Man

I don’t like Batman or Iron Man.

There. I said it.

I like Superman and Captain America.

Why? Not because of their powers. Powers in the comic book realm are a dime a dozen.

I like Cap and Superman because of their character. They attempt to do what is right.

One of my favorite scenes in any comic book movie is when the Avengers are heading into battle and Iron Man says a curse word. Captain America says, “Language.” Then the rest of the movie is spent making fun of Cap for trying to hold this higher morality. I like what Captain America attempted to do – to insert a morality check.

Even the innocence of Superman is being tampered with in the new DC movies where Superman is living with with Lois. Maybe I like the Captain America and Superman of the days before the 2000s when they were much more innocent and benevolent.

Maybe I’m naive concerning these two characters, but I know many who celebrate the Bat and Iron Man. They love the normal guy being able to keep up with the super humans. But they also celebrate the edginess of these characters. They see the flaws within them, and it causes people to love them more. Batman is a murderer and a philanderer. Iron Man is an egotist and a playboy. Both super heroes have little moral character associated with their super human abilities.

Why is this a big deal? They’re just movies and comic books, aren’t they?

The celebration of the anti-hero like Batman or Suicide Squad or the Punisher or Jessica Jones is a symbol of the greater desire in society today to celebrate evil as good. The old idiom says, “a broken clock is right twice a day.” But it is still broken and in need of fixing. So it is with these “heroes” who live ungodly, immoral lifestyles but happen to save a few people who are portrayed as worth saving.

It is entertaining to see the hero win. It is fun to see the mind games played on the big screen and have problems solved before the credits roll, but this celebration of evil called good is creating a divergence from morality in our society.

It is appropriate for people to be concerned about video games that glorify murder and rape and other immoral behaviors. It is right for people to stand against injustice. But it is hard to combat the shift in our minds that has blurred the line between right and wrong, good and evil.

Isaiah 5:20

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

When we celebrate the things that the scriptures say are abominations, sinful, malevolent, or divisive, we add to the demoralization of our communities. We feed money to the machine that is spitting out this ungodly, immoral entertainment, and we wonder why this is all that is being presented. We laugh right alongside our neighbor as someone else is devalued for a joke. We pick and poke and prod as we try to elevate ourselves in the eyes of others. We are more concerned about what others think – fitting in with others – than what God, our Father who created us and sustains us, thinks.

And we wonder why there are school shootings. We are confused why children are rebellious and rude.

To find the answer to these problems, we must begin to look inward and see what we celebrate by our actions and words, by our very lives. For those who come after us are watching us and being molded by us and are emulating us.

Even in the church this struggle pervades. Many want to receive salvation through Christ AND keep their lives celebrating immorality and selfishness. If we want to change the world, we must begin by changing ourselves, especially those of us within the church that belongs to Christ.


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